12 Insanely Creative Ads

12/16/2013 05:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2014

Some of the most amazing and effective ads ever developed, some of which have become iconic, faced incredible odds before being approved for production, when in production and postproduction, and even after being placed on air or in magazines. A few do not, but very few.

There is a highly emotional involvement in approving ads that are fresh and distinctive. All the more so for those that are groundbreaking and push envelope edge. Even clients who believe that only great advertising can burst through the clutter and stand out in the sea of sameness, can get jangled.

It's a classical approach avoidance conflict. Drawn to the need to grab attention and motivate prospects, but when standing face to face with the decision to run or not to run. Lock jaw!

A unique, new and daring concept can be scary. To a prospect, to the executive in charge of saying "do it", and even to Boards of Directors. Why? There is always risk that goes with the reward. While looking back over the shoulder does not make history, there are perils associated with doing otherwise.

As an adman I have had the good fortune of being associated with an unusual number of ads that were brilliant creative concepts and great executions when produced. All faced hurtles along the way from the skeptics, the dunces, the pinheads, the meek and the weak.

Most prevailed because they had someone championing them, but also through circumstances, manipulations, timing and dumb luck. The best offense was always having grounded arguments and standing one's ground.

Happily great ads can drive unusually massive awareness, be much more persuasive and result in significant perceptual gains and huge product sales.

It is usually the entrepreneurial minds that recognize the upside and go for the gold rings. And, when they do step up to the plate and put their advertising and their money where their commitment to their product or service is, they hit home runs.

And some even grand slams.

A few of these kinds of ads are illustrated here.

  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
    This is arguably the most memorable and iconic ad in the history of advertising. It faced enormous hurdles in getting aired but resulted in one of the greatest product successes ever for the Macintosh computer.
  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
  • Apple Computer - “1984” Macintosh Introduction
  • Alcatraz Penitentiary
    This ad, with virtually no media weight, attracted unusual attention because it was a brilliant totally unexpected way to position a popular tourist attraction. A classic because it makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar which many great ads do.
  • Apple Computer - E Mail
    One of the first, if not the first, ads that promoted electronic mail. Not only was the concept of getting your mail incredibly fast clearly communicated, but the preposterousness of the speed claim was attention getting and mind blowing. Today we take email totally for granted.
  • California Cooler – “One More Reason To Hate California”
    California is perceived as a place where new and different, often strange things emerge and trends come into existence. The advent of wine coolers was the same and this campaign took full advantage of that idea highlighting California “pink tofu” and “formal dinner parties where you wear socks”, to launch an industry. It was followed by a second differentiating campaign, ”The Real Stuff”, when the competition in the category heated up. This iconic advertising was selected as one of the ten best campaigns of the decade. The advertising created the wine cooler category, established the California Cooler brand and made a ton of money for two guys from Stockton, California.
  • California Cooler – “One More Reason To Hate California”
  • Dell Computer
    At the time, Dell was one of two dozen price brands struggling to establish itself as a real player in PC category with IBM and Compaq harboring most of the sales to Corporate America. This ad, along with many others were groundbreaking and caused a great deal of pain for the two competitors. Comparative and competitive these ads said it all in a powerful, factual manner. They were so strong and effective they didn’t even need a tag line.
  • Dreyer’s/Edy’s Ice Cream
    This was one of many commercials that ran for a decade and promoted Dreyer’s as “It’s Not Your Ordinary Ice Cream”. Each spot was better than the next in elevating the desire for a better ice cream experience. This particular ad, “Dancing Baby”, produced much imitation, drove the product share way up and won arguably the most important creative award, the Cannes Lion.
  • Intel
    Back in the day before “Intel Inside”, and Intel was advertising only to a very narrow group of customers in vertical and trade magazines this ad, and others like it generated lots of awareness and relevance. Along with smiles in a category that was rampant with the most boring, repetitive, expected and dull ads.
  • Kia Motors of America
    How do you introduce a Korean car into America when Honda, Toyota and Nissan, all Japanese, have a lock on the low end of the automobile market. You probably don’t use a symbol that is a Japanese icon. But that’s exactly what this ad did in launching the Kia Sephia from Korea, into the incredibly competitive auto market with “It’s About Time Everyone Had A Well Made Car”.
  • Kia Motors of America
  • Levelor Blinds
    How could product superiority be better expressed? It couldn’t. This ad exploited every possible competitive benefit offered by the product. It set the brand way apart from all of the competition in an attention getting and fun manner.
  • Reebok
    In the David and Goliath sneaker wars, Nike clearly is the giant. This commercial created to introduce a new product called “The Pump”, that offered a superior fit compared to Nike. The spot was pulled because of a firestorm of criticism the company couldn’t handle. At the end of a bungee jump only one of the jumpers remains. Regardless, it generated massive awareness for the product and immediately sold a huge number of sneakers. The ensuing publicity drove the advertising message far beyond the three days that it was on air.
  • Teddy Ruxpin
    Worlds of Wonder, a fledgling San Francisco company, had developed a completely new take on the worlds most popular toy, the teddy bear. They called it Teddy Ruxpin and it actually talked. The commercial that introduced Teddy to the world riffed on Frankenstein’s creation and was called “It’s Alive”. So successful in driving sales that Teddy was out of stock and selling for $500 on the black market. And, Worlds of Wonder became the first company at the time to generated $110M in revenues surpassing the previous record holder Compaq computers at $105M.
  • Lazer Tag
    Incredibly, Worlds of Wonder came back in its second year with this product and an even more colossal television commercial. This one for a product that allowed players to fire laser beams at one another and accumulate scores as they went along. Lazer Tag was on it’s way to generating even more sales than Teddy Ruxpin had the year before until two kids in Los Angeles were spotted playing at night in a parking lot and one was shot and killed by the LAPD.